I was interested to read the letter by Ellen Golla in the recent mailbox ("All Wood Smoke is Toxic" Sept. 14), as over a decade ago I had done a significant amount of reading on the topic of the combustion chemistry of vegetable matter, albeit my interest was in a combusting material other than wood. I have long had impaired lung function as a result of working as a research scientist with some fairly nasty aromatic organic chemicals in the 1970s, and I am quite comfortable reading about matters of complex chemistry and biology before forming an opinion.
Upon moving to Humboldt in 2011, I once more took up smoking cannabis after a 30-year hiatus, and found that my enjoyment was diminished as a result of the smoke in my lungs. At a friend's recommendation, I looked into temperature-controlled vaping as an alternative, and found that indeed smoking cannabis at combustion temperatures (often exceeding 900°F) produced the same nasty gasses and nano-particulate ash that Ms. Golla identified. But with temperature-controlled vaping of cannabis, the desired cannabinoid chemicals can be extracted (volatilized) from the plant matter without producing any benzene (>400°F) or ash. My lungs are much happier these days.
And it should go without saying (but I will anyway) that the same considerations are true for smoking tobacco. For my buddies who partake, I will always try one time (only as I'm not one to nag) to convince them that they can get the same "benefits" from tobacco that they enjoy without the harmful chemicals and ash if they make a similar change.
James Weseman, Eureka